Page images
PDF
EPUB

ciency of a great and central truth on our conceptions of ought so mysterious, is not satisfactory. I would answer, that if we confine ourselves to what alone is essential, there is no mystery whatever. It is of no importance to understand how God is omnipresent—it is all-important to believe that he is omnipresent. The fact is intelligible, eventful, the gate of Providencewith the rationale of the fact we are not concerned, nor has it in any way entered into our argument. There are facts in reference to the Divine existence which we believe, though their explanation lies hidden in the mighty depths of His unsearchable essence; and so long as the statement of those facts is not self-contradictory, is not mysterious, is not unmeaning, they are capable of being proved by evidence, notwithstanding, if we may use the expressions, that into their philosophy, into their sources in God's nature, no thought may penetrate. Our concern, then, is with the fact, that God is a spirit; and whilst backwards into its hidden causes we do not look, forwards into its clear consequences we hold it most necessary to go; and we think that an influential, because an intelligent faith in Providence, has slipped out of our alien habits of conception--and many views of God, most unworthy of His perfections, have escaped exposure, and hold imprisoned some of the finest springs of the soul, because we have not contemplated his character through the medium of his spirituality—we have not disposed all our thoughts of Him in consistency with this thought ; and because that intellectual piety which has yet to feed the heart's love with the brightness of knowledge, which has yet to awaken with the same revealing profoundest awe and serenest peace, has not roused itself to devotional abstraction, and by the steadfast gaze of meditative consciousness developed all that is folded in the truth that God is a Spirit.'

If we would acquaint ourselves with God, and understand how his attributes are necessary to his nature, here is our commencing thought. In pure spirituality, whatever distinguishes God is essentially involved. Spirit is thought, and therefore God is the omnipresent Mind. Spirit is activity, and therefore God is the ever-operating Providence. Spirit is omnipotence, for infinite knowledge is infinite power. Spirit is holiness, august and inviolable, for it cannot know temptation. Spirit is love, for it is infinitely blissful, and its highest glory is the revelation of itself, the production of its own rectitude and joy in the minds it has created to know it and rejoice. God's spirituality is provision for all moral wants, and protection against all theological narrowness which makes devotion fear, or worship slavish, or salvation exclusive-pardon, for it is inaccessible to wrath, and interposes discipline only to lead the heart out of darkness into marvellous light, to the knowledge of itself-renovated purity, for it blazes on every hidden thought, and is the rewarding witness of every secret struggle—everlasting comfort, for what trust and hope and delightful thoughts of the future consummation of every pure desire may not each human spirit repose unfearingly in the Divine, who cannot look unkindly on ought that He has made, and whose brightest revealable glory must ever be in shedding abroad noble gifts and leading his children

upwards to Himself. • God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth. This mode of conception is capable of infinite enlargement, so that in its growing refinement, there is provision made that our worship may become more pure, more quickening, more intelligent of the infinite Father, more of a rejoicing sympathy with His beneficent will. In proportion as we realize it, God is near to usHe is within us. The God of Providence, who is a spirit, is within our spiritual nature, where we may retire and meet Him and ally ourselves to Him, and when we feel his presence, lean our weakness on that intimate and Almighty love, and awaken our energies beneath His kindling eye.

ON THE CLAIMS OF THE POOR.

“Why should I care about the Poor?'-is not a question that any man of common feeling, much less any real disciple of Jesus Christ, will be likely to ask. There is a tone of inhumanity in it, which, to any heart not completely hardened, must be its sufficient condemnation. It sounds too like Cain's question, "Am I my brother's keeper?'

But even if asked, it might be answered so as to show the most selfish man, that he is far from being without reasons, connected with his own interest, for paying some attention to the condition and character of the poor. For, unless he goes to a distance from all places of human resort, and shuts himself up in a complete solitude, he must be liable to have his own comfort and peace, on various occasions, affected by the manners, principles, and conduct of the persons by whom he is surrounded. When he has need of their services, it is his interest that he should be served with fidelity. When his property is, in any respect or degree, committed to their care, or open to injury from them, it is his interest that they should be regardful of his rights. When he merely goes among them in the ordinary intercourses of social and busy life, it is his interest that he should meet with civility. In short, he is interested in whatever tends to the preservation of public order, and the promotion of the general welfare. He is interested, therefore, in the condition and character of the poor; because on these

F

must very much depend the comfort, the peace, and, eventually, the safety of society.

But it is not proposed to address the readers of the Christian Teacher as though they needed any appeal to their selfish feelings, to awaken in them a concern for the poor. It is taken for granted that they have already learned of another and greater Teacher, to consider a benevolent care for the poor among their primary duties. They are invited, in their character of Christians, to receive, with candid and friendly attention, a few suggestions on the question, what may be accounted the just and reasonable claims of the poor on those who find themselves in higher stations of society?"

1. One such claim, it is submitted, they have on their fellow-countrymen in general as represented by the legislature. It is a claim for so much consideration, at least, as may prevent any laws from being enacted, and any modes of raising the revenues from being adopted, that would press unduly upon them, or, in any respect, be manifestly and peculiarly injurious to them. In strict justice, no one class of the community should be favoured, no one overlooked. The burthens necessary to be borne for the common good, should be distributed as equally and impartially as possible: and the sacrifices of individual convenience, or the restrictions on individual liberty, required for the same purpose of the common good, should not be greater in the case of one class than in that of another. But, certainly, if there must, occasionally, be some difference, it should not be to the disadvantage of the poor. They should not be the least regarded, because they are the least powerful. They should not be the least remembered in an assembly of legislators, because they may happen to have the least influence in the formation of that assembly. No advantage should be taken of them for the sake of other classes that could better bear an increase of their burthens : and least of all for the sake of those who, if they should contribute to the common good a little more than their exact proportion, would still have an ample compensation left in the great superiority of their condition.

This would seem only a just and reasonable claim on the part of the poor, under any government professing to be guided by the principles of equity in its treatment of the governed. But in a Christian country, and with legislators acknowledging the authority, the sanctions, and the obligations of the Christian religion, how much more powerfully should that claim of the poor be felt! How peculiarly becoming does it appear, that a spirit of benevolent and merciful consideration for the poor, should preside over the counsels and regulate the decisions of such legislators! On them, surely, it may be urged as a right of the poor, which ought never to be denied or forgotten, that every possible care should be taken to prevent them from being

unduly burthened, or, in any respect, unfairly treated, in comparison with the rest of the community. Yes; it does seem as though, in a Christian country, a poor man who is able and willing to labour, should not have just cause to think either his opportunities and chances of profitable labour needlessly diminished, or the proportion which he must pay out of his hard earnings for the necessaries of subsistence unnaturally increased, by legislative interference with the freedom of commercial in

He should have cause, rather, to feel satisfied, that, so far as the laws of his country are concerned, no hindrance that could possibly be avoided, is left in the way of his honest exertions; no burthen that, with a due regard to the common good could possibly be made lighter, is allowed to remain for him to bear.

This claim of the poor is one which addresses itself not only to legislators, but to all who have a voice in the appointment of legislators ;—to many, therefore, among the readers of the Christian Teacher. Nor should the statement of it be considered as out of place in a publication which is devoted to moral and religious purposes. For it is strictly within the limits of such purposes to remind Christians of their duties, and it cannot be less than a Christian duty to maintain and urge, on behalf of the poor, even what may properly be called a political right.

2. The next, however, which will be mentioned as one of their just and reasonable claims, must be felt at once to bring with it the strongest recommendations of a purely moral and religious nature. It is that which they have on all who, either regularly or occasionally, make use of their services, for the most exact and scrupulous fidelity in giving them the just and full reward of their services. No advantage should ever be taken of their dependent condition of their possible ignorance how to seek, or of their inability to obtain, redress for a wrong done to them by their employers. Their very weakness should be their strong defence against even a thought of withholding from them the least portion of their due. To drive a hard bargain with them for their labour, or to over-reach them in the terms of the bargain—to devise means for extracting a profit from the very wages paid to them, while an appearance is preserved of paying them their full demand—to place in their way temptations to needless and even hurtful expenses, for the sake of the gain that may be made out of their expenditure;- this is indeed to 'grind the faces of the poor; and a sin of no small magnitude must it be in the sight of a benevolent and merciful God. A heavy burthen of guilt must they be accumulating upon their souls, who allow themselves such a source of profit. A fearful reckoning must they be preparing against the time when He shall call

them into judgment, of whom it is declared that He will maintain the cause of the oppressed and the right of the poor. Vain in the sight of God and of man too, must be all the professions of religion which such persons may make. Nay, their professions add to their guilt by the discredit which they bring on religion itself. It has occurred to the writer of these remarks, to observe how keenly the very suspicion of being subjected to injustice and extortion, is felt by the poor; and how bitter is the scorn with which they speak of any pretensions to religion on the part of the persons by whom they believe themselves to have been injured. Yet, unhappily, though they perceive the inconsistency between such pretensions and any violation of justice to themselves, they do not always, in their inferences from their own experience, separate religion from the faults of its professors ; they too often extend to it a portion of the feelings which they entertain against the persons whom, while wearing to the world an appearance of sanctity and devotion, they have found to be hard and extortionate masters ;they are apt to look with a sullen and suspicious eye on religion itself as in league with their oppressors. They are apt to shrink from the persuasions and counsels of all who are zealous for religion, as though, under this show of kind concern for their spiritual welfare, there must be some secret and interested design of rendering them more subservient slaves to a worldly policy, and more manageable instruments of a worldly profit. On this account, as well as on the ground of equity--for the honour of religion as well as for the sake of justice—it is surely desirable, not only that the employers of the poor should be strictly faithful and honourable in all their transactions with them, but that they should adopt some means of preventing, if possible, even the suspicion of being otherwise. They should never even appear to act as though they assumed a right to be judges, without appeal, in their own cause. In all questions between themselves and the persons in their employ, they should let their decisions be clearly seen to rest on something more than their own statements, in which they may not unnaturally be supposed to be under some bias of their own interests. They should manifest a cheerful and friendly readiness to give every explanation that can reasonably be required of them. The poor have a claim to this, not only strictly just, but open and generous treatment on

the
part

of those who make a profitable use of their services. They have a claim, not only that no undue advantage shall be taken of their dependent condition, but for every possible ground of confidence which can be given them, in the upright and friendly intentions of their employers.

3. This is a claim not very widely separated from the next to be mentioned—that of being treated with civility and kindness on all occasions of their intercourse with persons of higher

« PreviousContinue »